A thin line between tyranny and freedom

Today is the one year anniversary of the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol building. Today, the mood on Capitol Hill is somber and quiet. President Biden and Vice President Harris gave speeches with sharp warnings to Americans, as well as to all those listening around the world. They said plainly that our democracy is fragile and without vigilance and support for the rule of law that governs America, could be lost entirely. The New York Times reported on President Biden’s speech, and gave excerpts.

“The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election,” Mr. Biden said, standing in the same National Statuary Hall invaded by throngs of Trump supporters a year ago. “He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest and America’s interest, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can’t accept he lost.”

“Without using Mr. Trump’s name, the president assailed the “defeated former president” for trying to rewrite history and for casting the attackers of a year ago as patriots. “Is that what you thought when you looked at the mob ransacking the Capitol, destroying property, literally defecating in the hallways, rifling through the desks of senators and representatives, hunting down members of Congress?” Mr. Biden asked. “Patriots? Not in my view.” “Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America and American democracy.” 

“With not a single Republican senator in the Senate chamber, Democrats took to the floor after Mr. Biden’s speech to continue assailing Mr. Trump, “the worst president in modern times,” as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, put it. “It was Donald Trump’s big lie that soaked our political landscape in kerosene,” Mr. Schumer said. “It was Donald Trump’s rally on the Mall that struck the match. And then came the fire.” https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/01/06/us/jan-6-capitol-riot/biden-speech-january-6

According to journalist Peter Baker of the New York Times,

 “America has not come together to defend its democracy; it has only split further apart. Lies and disinformation spread by the former president have so permeated the political ecosphere that nearly universal outrage has reverted to separate blue and red realities. Far from shunned for what even his own vice president deemed an unconstitutional attempt to thwart the will of the voters, Mr. Trump remains the undisputed powerhouse of his party — and a viable candidate to reclaim the White House in three years… Rather than a wake-up call highlighting for all the fragility of the American experiment, the violence that besieged Washington turns out to have been one more chapter in the polarizing, partisan, ideological and cultural struggle over truth and consequences in the modern era.

“In fact, no matter how many times Mr. Trump says the 2020 election was stolen, not a shred of evidence has emerged to prove it. Not one independent authority — no judge, no prosecutor, no governor, no election agency, no news media organization — has found any credible indication of fraud on a scale that would have changed the outcome.”

“Today, it has become heresy among conservatives to question Mr. Trump’s legacy…The congressional Republicans who angrily denounced the president after their headquarters was invaded have gone silent or even made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago, all but pretending it never happened. “It’s a pretty sobering lesson about human nature,” said Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a Democrat who led the House managers prosecuting Mr. Trump in a Senate impeachment trial and now serves on the House select committee investigating Jan. 6. “Rejecting the fact that Joe Biden won the 2020 election is now the organizing principle of the G.O.P.,” Raskin said. “That is a terrifying and astonishing new reality that we have to contend with.”

“For many Republicans, even those who privately despise Mr. Trump and agree that Mr. Biden was legitimately elected, Jan. 6 is a topic to avoid. They bristle at the focus on it, seeing it not as a good-faith effort to find out what happened but a partisan weapon to tear them down and distract from the Democrats’ own failed policies.” (NYTimes, Jan 6, 2022)

Dear Readers, I share this long excerpt from the NYTimes article with you all because it is important to understand what the motives are that underpin the GOP’s about-face concerning the January 6th insurrection. Republican lawmakers who were in the chamber that day, whose lives were as equally threatened as their colleagues across the aisle, have decided that the truth of what actually occurred, the violence and loss of life and even threats to their own lives, are no longer what matters in the United States of America. Even without Trump’s Twitter account as his 24-7 bully pulpit active in the world, he is clearly still pulling the strings of his followers, both elected and the electorate.

We are living through extraordinarily pressure-filled times. The tensions in America and around the planet, are as tight as they have ever been, affecting more people than ever before on Earth. Words like truth, facts, science, logic, reason, moral obligation, democracy, no longer have a consensual meaning amongst people. The propaganda machines behind the most powerful governments on Earth have gone above and beyond to create the current extreme atmosphere of fear and mistrust between neighbors, members of communities, lawmakers, and family members. This mistrust, fear and encouragement to report one’s neighbor to the authorities is the stuff of dictatorship movements globally. For those who don’t know that, read the history of fascist regimes during the 20th century. China, Russia, Spain, Italy, Nazi Germany, the list is unfortunately long. They all use the same basic playbook.

When the most popular articles in the January 6th, 2022 New York Times have headlines like, “Does my boyfriend like me?” it proves my point. Will democracy as we have known it have to be eradicated before the people finally wake up?

As we move forward through 2022, 2023, and 2024, I highly encourage, even admonish, every person who still has the autonomy to research and think critically, to do so. The democracy that is still hanging on by a thread in the United States could be wiped out, replaced with a form of government that is truly the stuff of nightmares. Look what happened to Hong Kong over the past year. That and much worse could potentially be the USA’s future. 

Dear Readers, I have wracked my brain and searched through my own heart over the past year, to try to make sense of what has happened in my country. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve watched as the people of the United States made huge strides toward more freedom and liberty, toward a more perfect union. But the past two decades, and the past five years in particular, have brought us to the brink of losing many of the freedoms that were so diligently fought for. We lost some of our most eloquent voices for freedom and equality of all people. Just a few of the greatest voices include Maya Angelou and bell hooks, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There are many others who spent their lifetimes reminding humanity of the light that lives inside us all, of the value of love, equity, justice, truth and freedom. Have we collectively become so blindsided by our cell phones and social media and virtual reality games that we no longer remember the real power that resides inside us each and all?

The conversation about diversity, equity, & privilege in America

This is a tricky topic to write a blog post about, dear Readers. Even though it’s potentially asking for backlash, I want to attempt some thoughts around this politically tense issue.

Diversity, equity, and privilege are popular terms in our society these days, especially in the field of education. Being involved in this field for the past several years, I’ve seen these concepts only growing more prevalent. All facets of educating children and youth need to be run through the equity and diversity lens, and all white privilege must be checked at the door.

I like the pendulum analogy:  the pendulum is forever swinging from one extreme to the other in society, and at the moment we are in the wide arc of diversity.

What does this translate to in practical terms? Many things, including the fact that if a person happens to not be “of color” they are likely to be suspected of racism, white privilege, or else unawakened (not woke).  (Disclaimer:  I am a white person, living in the heart of the western United States.) I am in the midst of a graduate program to become a licensed special education teacher for K-12 students. I am a “mid-life career changer” as one recruiter put it to me, a polite way of saying I’m a little old for this game but am doing it, nonetheless.

Let’s face it, racism is as old as history itself. Since there have been different tribes of humans on the planet, there has been bias from one group towards others. Its manifestation as oppression, slavery, and violence is an ancient story here. In fact, I’ve been studying for a Praxis exam I must take and pass in order to obtain licensure; the dreaded Social Studies subtest. This test covers an insane amount of historical facts, from the time of European exploration of the Americas beginning in the 15th century, all the way through our current era. As I’m sure many readers are aware, the story of how America came to be the United States (and its 245 year history) is one of a little cooperation and friendship between different groups, and a lot of fighting, warring, pain and suffering. Abhorrent practices such as near extermination of indigenous tribes and slavery of Africans were common ways that certain white European-Americans got land, wealth and, yes, privilege. From the Spanish conquistadors who decimated Mexico, Central and South America, to the Dutch who brought African slaves to the Caribbean islands, (and consequently to the East Coast of the colonies) to the Spanish and English pirates who stole treasure as they traveled the high seas, to the Europeans who settled the original colonies at the expense of indigenous tribes’ lands and way of life, they eventually pushed across the entire continent and took what they wanted for their own gain in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” With so much bad blood as the foundation of settling and creating the United States of America, it is little wonder that 245 years later, this country is in a very tenuous position on many fronts. There is considerable evidence that we are on the cusp of complete societal collapse.

So here we are, in 2021. Never before have there been so many groups, individuals, famous and influential people of color speaking out, through all available platforms, about ending racism and unfair practices by the government at all levels. The truth of their message could not be any plainer:  People of color must be treated equally in every way as white people in the United States. It is incredible that over 150 years have passed since the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were passed which made slavery illegal and gave rights of citizenship to black people. It took a hundred more years for the Civil Rights Act to be passed, guaranteeing Black people equal protection under federal law. And yet, here we are–Black and Brown skinned people are still being treated as less than white privileged people in lots of places in the United States in the year 2021.

Of course we have made a lot of progress. Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States in 2008. People of color are at the top of their game in many fields of endeavor, such as music, the film industry, visual art, performance art– in fact all the creative industries. Obviously they are leaders in Sports. And in science, innovation, business, government, and also education. Yes, there has been a lot of progress. Still, the struggle to end policies and practices based in racism continues. The school to prison pipeline for youth of color is real in cities across America today. It is still true that in many public school districts, white women make up the majority of teachers, and white men the majority of top administrators. We still have farther to go.

Dear Readers, I’m afraid this blog post turned into a rant tonight. There is so much more to say on this subject. But I will end with a thought to ponder. We must never become complacent, and it’s important to continually check ourselves for hypocrisy. Case in point:  The Met Gala was just held in NYC this past week. It’s an annual event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where many famous celebrities come and model the most outrageous “formal” gowns and evening wear from New York’s fashion designers. I happened to notice that New York’s Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attended the gala event, wearing a gown with the words “tax the rich” written on her backside. Although I generally like her spunk and fearlessness at calling out corruption when she sees it on Capitol Hill, I must say that there was more than a little hypocrisy involved in her choice of attending that event, and wearing that particular message. See this article for more.

https://www.businessmayor.com/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-responds-to-criticism-of-tax-the-rich-dress-worn-at-met-gala/

Elegy for Our Common Identities

September 11, 2021

Today was the 20 year anniversary of the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and Pentagon in Washington, DC.  I, and many other Americans, watched and listened to the event that took place at the 9-11 memorial at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. For several hours, pairs of people took turns to read the names of every person who was killed by the terrorist attack.

The people who read the names of the dead were all relatives of someone who died. Two by two, they stood somberly and read name after name, in alphabetical order.

Nearly 3,000 people died as a result of that fateful and tragic day. As the names of each one were read, I listened. Musicians played lovely, quiet chamber music to accompany the readings. Many emotions washed over me during the course of the memorial service.  Sorrow was the keynote underlying the entire service. One by one, the readers honored the one they had personally lost. Patterns quickly emerged:  father, brother, cousin, mother, sister, daughter, son. People of all ages honored their loved one, including many children and youth who never had the opportunity to know the one who died personally. And yet, each one spoke similar words of knowing them through the stories, pictures, and family ties they had for the past twenty years. Most of the readers remarked that they wished their beloved could have been alive to see their families grow and mark the milestones of their common lives—graduations, births, marriages, and other significant moments. Some readers choked up and cried as they read their memorial, feeling the loss as acutely as if time stood still. Many spoke of the pain they still felt as they remembered their beloved one every single day. And many ended with the words, we will meet again one day.

Corey Kilgannon for The New York Times

The common threads that were repeated over and over during the course of the four hour ceremony became apparent and important to recognize. A few of these threads include:

The names of the dead read as a reminder of who lives in America. The ancestors of these people came from all parts of the world, and yet they were all together in New York on that fateful day. All races, religions, creeds, and belief systems were represented in those who died.

Everyone who died had someone (or many) who cared about them, and misses them very much to this day. And, the important point that each person was simply a human, living their ordinary life on a clear September morning, when something unforeseeable and utterly horrific happened to them that was completely beyond their control.

This blog post is not the place to discuss the implications of everything that came after 9-11-2001, or of how the world changed forever because of that day. This post is simply my way to honor and remember, along with many others, those whose lives were taken from those whom they loved.

During the livestream, they showed the memorial itself. It is a brilliant representation of the eternal nature of life, death and spirit. A deeply built square fountain and pool of water that continually recycles. Around the perimeter are all the names of those who died carved into the stone rim. There were flowers and flags placed next to everyone’s name. The symbolism is profound as a fitting memorial to the human spirit which can never die, regardless of the destruction of the physical body.

Although today’s memorial service was specifically for the ones who died on 9-11-2001, I also sensed the larger memorial to all of those who have left us through no fault of their own. The pandemic has taken many millions of lives and left millions more behind to grieve. In a real sense, this time on Earth seems to be one of intense grieving and loss. There is a line in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Christian-Judeo bible that states, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die … A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”  This is a time to mourn, to remember all that has happened, and to honor it for the lessons we have learned as the whole of humanity.